Friday, 16 March 2018

Film review: Gringo (2018)

We saw the trailer for this and took it to be a balls to the wall comedy about kidnapping and money. Mind you, we saw it before watching Game Night, so we were a little excited at the prospect of comedy. Was it what we thought? Was it good entertainment? Let’s find out as we play review the movie:

This feels like a little film with big help - Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Cameron Fry - sorry, Michael Ruck, Sharlto Copley. But the focus of the story is hapless Harold, played brilliantly by David Oyelowo (you may know him from such films as Selma (and of course Kallus in Star Wars Rebels). His day starts out shit and gets so much worse, and you have to feel for the guy who is painted as the most innocent and naiive boy on the planet - until much later in the movie when you find out why he’s trying to be such a good boy. In turns funny, relatable and possessing much more personal integrity that me, Harold brings some much-needed pathos to what may otherwise have been a bit of an almost-funny comedy.

There are many themes at work, and not all of them are huge Hollywood Oscar bait for a change. In a dramedy this small, it works. We have loyalty - who can you trust? Who is really on your side, and who is just thinking of themselves? We have survival - for some that’s money, power, position. For others that’s literally trying to stay alive. Then we have Harold. He seems to stand for something, and his speech later on about how he could have more moral flexibility but refuses to turn out like a family member is an eye-opener. Funny it may be, but it’s also a statement of the world today. Sunny, the unassuming extra in all this, has faith that the world may be fucked but there are nice people in it, and this is a nice sentiment in the middle of a murder attempt / kidnapping in Mexico.

The story is a twisty one that you need to keep up with - alliances will shift, people will turn on others, and the fluidity of what’s going on keeps you watching. Although it felt like a bit long at times, the ending was certainly a good payoff for so many reasons, and the famous faces dotted about are refreshing.

There were a few great moments in it that were definitely more for black comedy than for shock value; sudden actions, some surprise fates, and more than a few brilliant moments of irony or dialogue really made us giggle or gasp in wonder. Although some parts may have been a little predictable, the whole package was overall fun and also wickedly funny in places.

Verdict: 7/10; a good laugh at times while also showing some wonderful moments of pathos by David Oyelowo, this sometimes felt a little long. However, still definitely worth watching if you like underdogs.

And that’s a wrap - until the next time.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Film review: Love, Simon (2018)

Love, Simon movie poster Nick Robinson
Not my kind of film, I know, but this was a Cineworld Secret Screening. All you do is book tickets to the single showing of the mystery film, turn up, and be surprised. In the past it’s been new indie releases, festival winners, that kind of thing. We literally did just hope for the best.

Which is amusing, because that’s what this film does. A quiet, very caring-about-not-caring affair, Love, Simon charts a high school year in the life of the titular young lad, who has understood that he’s gay for a while but has never told a living (or dead) soul. He’s got a pretty ok life - nice parents (one of which is a very liberal, very championing therapist), nice friends (a very close best friend who’s awesome, by the way), and even cool teachers. Ok, so the deputy head isn’t that cool, but he is underneath it all a nice person. And the drama teacher is EXCELLENT. Then one day someone posts on the school intranet news feed that they’re secretly gay.

Love, Simon Nick Robinson
It sparks an instant wave of curiosity and gossip. Purr wee Simon’s ears prick up as he’s scared shitless by the thought that someone may have worked something out about him. However, when he sees the post he finds out it’s written by the other student - and also that they feel so alone. He makes up a new, untraceable Gmail account and writes back to them.

Over the next few months they talk a lot, start to rely on each other, confess that they’ve been inspired by each other - but they never reveal identities. Through no fault of his own, Simon’s emails are discovered by a classmate who then proceeds to blackmail Simon for his help in winning the heart of a student he’s fallen in love with.

Cue Simon trying to set his friend up with the love of his life, assumptions, misinterpretations, some very good ‘what if it’s that student over there? ’ daydreaming sequences, some expected family drama and a happy ending. Of course that’s what they’re going to write - this will not be a true-to-life story of the young people who are not accepted by their family or their friends, who end up on the streets or worse. This is Hollywood’s first foray into trying to wring money from their gay friends - they even cast people of colour and differing faiths in this to really pull out all the stops. That being said, it’s not bad for a first mainstream start. This may be when Hollywood realises it can make movies directed at a silent percentage of the audience and rake in the cash anyway.

On the whole it’s a nice, harmless movie that’s not your average high school drama and actually has a lot of personality and charm to it - shout-out to Nick Robinson (no, not a Neighbours character) for a good job as Simon, and the rest of the cast (including Josh Duhamel) for giving it all they've got.

As with Hidden Figures last year, I felt this didn’t go deep enough into the inequities faced by the main characters in actual society, but then again this could well be a quiet, happy film designed to pave the way for more hard-hitting or more realistic movies later on.

Verdict: 8/10; fun, funny, great characters and good dialogue. In the same vein as Wonder Woman or Black Panther, this was attempting to reach out to an oft-overlooked audience, and while the rest of us found it polite fun or meaningful drama, I know there will be people who watch this and realise a turning point in their lives, or identify strongly with the themes that were uncovered. A quiet, humour-filled and gentle movie, yes. But no less important for it.

That’s all till the next film. It’s supposed to be a comedy - possibly involving murder - so I can't wait.

Soopytwist, everyone.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Hong Kong film review: Cold War II (寒戰 2) 2016

I told you after the last one that this was on the cards. And after a long, crappy week and some really cold, shitty weather, what better way to spend a Friday night snowed-in but with a beer and a good film?

As with all things newified, click the pictures here to embiggen.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok Sean Lau HK police
For those of you just joining us, this is indeed the sequel to Cold War, the police thriller named after the operation code name of the first film. And like all good sequels, it builds on the success of, and plot threads of, the first one. You may need a quick refresher before you start the film, as just like its predecessor, it gets down to business pretty damn quick. I hope you’re not expecting time to make a cup of tea or check your phone during the running time, because you’re not going to have it without use of the pause button.

Cold War Tony Leung M B Lee
Where do we start? Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok 郭富城) is now permanent Commissioner of the HK Police Force. Yay! But it’s been literally one or two weeks since the end of the first film, and he’s still surrounded by his faithful justice-bringers (and welcome pot of cold water on tense situations, Phoenix - played brilliantly by Charlie Yeung 楊采妮). However, there are still elements who are not prepared to let him stay in the job for long. As the movie goes on, we’re slowly introduced to a wider conspiracy than we first imagined. It’s not long before you realise that M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ga-Fai 梁家輝) is only the tip of an ugly iceberg. But whose side is he on? And for how long?

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok Tony Leung
There’s that old adage about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. When you’re not sure who’s using whom, or who’s lying to whom, it must be so much harder to work out the good intentions from the good actions for bad reasons. And somewhere in all that we have Lee, who thought he was ok with being put on ‘pre-retirement leave’, A.K.A. ‘garden leave’, before he’s basically sacked from the position of Commissioner. It must grate that Sean Lau is now in charge full-time, and of both arms of the police force (Operations and Management). But hey, he seems ok with it - until a group of people appear, intent on getting his son out of prison by hook or by a bunch of crooks. Now he’s dragged in and he doesn’t seem upset about it at all.

Cold War 2 Chow Yun Fat
In the meantime we meet some characters who were mentioned in the first movie but weren’t needed at that time - the drunk bloke who crashes his car and first introduces us to Lee’s son, and the infamous EU police van right at the start of the first movie? Yeah, he turns up in this just as his rich, famous uncle has him bailed out - and then promptly packs him off to the USA for good. Oh, his uncle? None other than Chow Yun Fat, someone I’ve missed for a while in new movies (that aren’t about pirates that he gets cut out of by mainland censors). Sharp, astute and in no mood for people pissing over rules and regulations, he has a small team of crack lawyers and experts he trusts to get to the truth of pretty much everything. When he gets the idea that someone is out to use him to somehow remove Sean Lau from office, he gets a bit of a cob on and that’s that - he’s out to get whoever it is for trying to use the legislature to their own advantage. What an upstanding young(ish) man.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok thriller
Still smarting from losing people in the last film, Sean Lau is in full-blown TRUST NO-ONE mode (Mulder would be proud) and sets about sorting out his own secret little team of people to start tracing and collecting evidence. He has more than one team, and more than one objective - and neither one knows of the others. His organisational (and compartmentalising) skills are to be feared; I’d hate to think what’s he like with a Netvigator (Sky) remote and a monthly planner. In the first movie, he used the ICAC to achieve his aims. In this one - who exactly is he using and how? Now that would be telling, but you know it’s going to be juicy and it’s going to be the ultimate smack-down if he can pull it off.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok Tony Leung argument
The thing is, with Lee you never really know what he’s thinking - to begin with I felt he was on Lau’s side regarding the imprisonment of his naughty son, but then I’m think he’s just biding his time, perhaps even getting his son where he wants him (for reasons that may only become apparent the last time they speak). I love that, when I see a certain scene, it can look like both scenarios are true - from each point of view. It really is left up the audience to decide what they’re seeing.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok courtroom Hong Kong
The courtroom scenes can seem overly A Few Good Men-ish, but give them a break; they’re trying to prove how HK courts are still actually independent judges of guilt, complete with juries and trial by peers and everything (compared to the mainland. Which we won’t mention - until Sean Lau does by giving them a hyowj verbal ‘up yours’ right near the end of the film. It’s GLORIOUS.). What I do find interesting is the second court hearing, where Sean Lau ’s suspects he’s being fucked over just the same way as Lee was in the first film. Or is he? Is that anger, Lau, or cold revenge? Did Lee learn very quickly from Lau’s removal of him in the first movie, and he is now turning the tables? Or is he instead going for the slow burn? Chow Yun Fat is not having any shenanigans in his courtroom though - how very dare they think they can use the law for their own gains.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok Chow Yun Fat
After the court performance, Chow’s view of Lau changes a little, I think; now he’s not sure which side Lau is on. There’s a lovely scene where both of them, surrounded by their own teams, battle toward the same conclusion - but only one of them knows what it means. The other will have to ice-skate uphill to get his answer. I love how you see thought processes and reasons for their ideas of what Lee is up to, where he’s getting his motivation from, and how they think they’re going to divine the masterplan.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok shoot-out Hong Kong cross harbour tunnel
So far I’ve gone on about courtroom drama, people hedging their bets, not giving anything away, playing things close to the chest and basically being a thriller more than an action film. The next bit will change all that: the Tunnel Scene. Every time I see this film I settle in for the Tunnel Scene. Basically we have a shoot-out - but it’s so well done and so well put together that I have to go back and watch it again before I go on with the rest of the movie.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok Sean Lau stunt work
Hong Kong films still do action better than most Hollywood ones in my opinion; the CGI may have got better and the wire-work or stunt-work improved, but for me it’s always the style, or the way they put it on film, that makes it stand out. Hollywood movies are great at producing slick, perfect-looking action set pieces, sure. But Hong Kong makes it look more realistic. Not everyone is wearing a Rolex or suitable shoes - not everyone is driving a newish car or one that doesn’t need a fair bit of work to get it through an MOT - not everyone is a fake stunt artist in disguise.

I won’t go into details about what happens because I don’t want to spoil it, but bloody hell make sure you watch closely.

Cold War 2 Charlie Yeung
Remember Phoenix from the first movie? She wasn’t there to take anyone’s shit and she certainly wasn’t intimidated by Lee shouting in her face. They mention that she once dated Lau, and Lee even casts aspersions about that, especially as Lau is now married to someone else and has a young daughter. However it’s obvious (at least to me) that they’re now good friends because they trust each other’s commitment to what’s morally right - and that’s rare. When the tables are turning and Lau is basically put on two weeks’ notice that he’s being removed, he actually asks her to co-sign the petition to oust him. She’s not interested, but he wins her over with calm logic. And here’s the thing; now I’ve seen how he’s played his hand before, I too wanted her to sign the petition. I mean it protected her, kept her where she could do the most good, and he had things in motion that couldn’t be jeopardised by something as trivial as someone after his job. And that’s what I like about him; he has perspective.

Cold War 2 Eddie Peng
I also like it when other characters realise they’re being thrown under a bus but there’s nothing they can do about it - some excellent power play goes on as plans go south but people can’t know they were your plans in the first place. The film ends on a high note with consequences; people will be back, others will be itching for revenge, and next time, it may not be about the safety of a single city. I mean the easiest way to prove you’re the right man for the job is to escalate something so that you rescue not only your city but a neighbouring one too, right? Now suddenly you’re an international hero making Hong Kong look good.

Hmm. I guess we’ll have to wait and see - a sequel is slated for 2019 but whether it pans out that way is another matter. And, of course, we have to hope it’s as good as the first two.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok Hong Kong
I have to say I was more impressed by the first film, but this was no slouch in keeping up, what with its sometimes breath-taking manoeuvring of the characters and the background happenings that were there all along but you didn’t see. Lau proved himself once again to be a right slippery bastard - aren’t you glad he’s on the side of justice? What everyone else does next is going to be very interesting to see, that’s for damned sure.

Cold War 2 Aaron Kwok shoot-out lucky rear windscreen
Verdict: 9.5/10; solid plot, good use of characters, nice twists and turns, and I was kept guessing the whole time. The more times I see it, the more times I think I missed something the first few times.

And that’s pretty much it for today. Not sure what I’ll be watching next - this snow will have to clear off the roads first (so I can at least see where they end and the pavements begin) and then I can maybe get out of the house to get to the pictures.

Peach and lube, everyone - peach and lube.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Film review: Game Night (2018)

We have cinema membership cards (Cineworld, Odeon, Empire - they all do them these days) which means that, apart from paying a fixed amount a month and then seeing as many films as we like, we also get invited to see previews of new movies.

This time the movie was Game Night, so without further ado, let’s review:

What’s this all about? Rachel McAdams (in fine comedy form) is Annie, married to Max (Jason Bateman - there will never come a day when I do not appreciate his wicked-dry sarcasm), two very competitive trivia / party game nuts. They have a weekly game night at their house and their three friends come - and one brings his girlfriend-of-the-week, while everyone tries to avoid the creepy next-door-neighbour who also happens to be a police officer. Apparently he was divorced by the ‘good’ gamer and they don’t actually want him to come any more. Cut to Jason’s brother - who everyone thinks is ‘so cool’ because he’s a high flyer and has the most amazing lifestyle - is coming to visit. He decides he’s going to up the ante on poor Max (as he has apparently done their whole lives) and instead of holding your average board or party game night, he’s hired a company that specialises in kidnappings / murder mystery events.

This is a story of misunderstandings, red herrings, clues - and fake clues - nods, nudges and twisty endings. Half of the characters aren’t who you think they are (and not even who they think they are), the set pieces are not there to accomplish what you think, and if you watch closely you still won’t have the ending right.

It’s fun and it’s funny - there’s no malicious intent here, and even the way they treat the neighbour is a lesson. I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud (in a crowded cinema), or the number of the times the people in the same cinema had to bury their faces in coats / scarves etc. just so they could laugh but still hear the next lines on film. While some of the scenarios were predictable, the humour and the ultimate reckless, cheerful fun of the point of the film carried it through and in any case, the actors made it look effortlessly hilarious.

Shout-out to Sharon Horgan for being proper awesome, as was Kylie Bunbury. Billy Magnussen was a bloody treasure, and Lamorne Morris was excellent. In fact, everyone was so well cast in this it’s impossible to find fault with the acting. Rachel McAdams, who didn’t impress me much in True Detective II was brilliant in this (“Oh no - he died!”), and I applauded her Pulp Fiction reference about as much as Max (yes, I actually clapped while I laughed).

All in all, a very funny film that I know I will enjoy watching again when I’m able. Go for the slapstick, or puns, or wisecracks or sarcasm, stay for the actual plot and the ending - and the gratuitous moments when people get to s-m-i-l-e on film.

Verdict: 9/10; run, don’t walk to your local theatre for this one.

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